UK / 17 minutes / bw / Broken Lens Dir: Dammie Akinmola Pr: Alex Matthews Scr & Cine: Kazi Zaman Story: “Death by Scrabble” (2006 eastoftheweb.com) by Charlie Fish Cast: Joshua Expósito, Victoria Ashford, Cristinel Hogas, Carl Muircroft, Christopher Walthorne, Latifah Parara, Luke Waller, Zee Filho.
An obsessively jealous husband, Caine (Expósito), is playing a word-based board game—not Scrabble, and not really anything like it except for the manufacture of the tiles—with his wife (Ashford), whom he believes to be a serial adulteress. As play progresses, she spells out names with the tiles—names that Caine believes to be those of the men who have “disrespected” her. Some of those men he can identify, and so between plays and without any discernable passage of time at the game table, he
- goes to a nightclub called Board to Death and murders the bartender and self-professed ladies’ man, Nicholson (Hogas);
- invades the home of Marshall (Muircroft), a man who owes him money, ties up Marshall’s wife (Parara) and then gives Marshall the choice of committing suicide or having his wife murdered in front of him (Marshall chooses Option A);
- and finally, only slightly disconcerted to find that the name Caine’s wife started spelling onto the board was “Mark” and not “Marshall,” Caine attends a church service run by Father Sven (Walthorne) and then afterwards blows him away in the confessional.
Nicholson (Cristinel Hogas) boasts of his sexual prowess.
Caine spells out harsh truths (and falsehoods) to Marshall (Carl Muircroft).
Father Sven (Christopher Walthorne) believes he’s just going to hear Caine’s confession.
There’s more—but not much more—to the plot, including a rather predictable denouement, but the movie’s interest, aside from some splendid noirish cinematography, lies primarily in the enigmatic nature of what is actually happening. Is Caine merely imagining his atrocities—are they just vicious fantasies born from his demented jealousy? Or are his acts of murder the true story and the session at the board game a piece of symbolism? It’s a question this short movie doesn’t answer; it’s this lack of an answer that makes Board to Death stick in the mind. Another unanswered question is, of course, whether the wife has actually been unfaithful, or if it’s just Caine’s paranoia speaking.
But is Caine’s wife (Victoria Ashford) really such a femme fatale?
The performances are better than we often find in indie shorts. Muircroft and especially Hogas are fine—the latter really does capture perfectly the manner of a womanizing sleazebag, bragging of his latest conquest. Ashford doesn’t have a huge amount to do. Expósito and to a lesser extent Walthorne, however, are guilty of a certain degree of overacting—which may, of course, be precisely what they were directed to deliver. I did have a little difficulty deciphering some of Expósito’s thickly accented dialogue.
Father Sven delivers a reading from the Epistle of James that seems to have been intriguingly subverted. We have, for example, “Blessed is he who persists in temptation” for the line more usually rendered as something like “Blessed is he who perseveres in temptation”—i.e., who perseveres despite temptation.
The original story upon which Board to Death is (very) loosely based can be found here. It’s quite short and well worth a read. The movie’s website is here and there’s a trailer here. Board to Death will be on the festival circuit soonish if not already, and will be released onto YouTube at the start of 2016.
Comeuppance time for Caine (Joshua Expósito).
Note: I was given a viewing copy by the folk at Broken Lens. I’m always open to such approaches, although it can take quite a while (hello there, Pablo!) before an entry appears.